Professor Niall Ferguson, a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, has apologised after suggesting that the theories of the famous economic philosopher John Maynard Keynes were flawed because he was gay and childless.
The Harvard history professor and ex-Jesus tutor made the comments about Keynes in front of an audience of 500 at a Strategic Investment conference in California earlier this week, where he was asked to comment on Keynes’ famous observation that “in the long run we are all dead.”
In unscripted remarks given during a question and answer session he said, “Keynes was a homosexual and had no intention of having children…It is the economic ideals of Keynes that have gotten us into the problems of today.
“Short term fixes, with a neglect of the long run, leads to the continuous cycles of booms and busts. Economies that pursue such short term solutions have always suffered not only decline, but destruction, in the long run.”
A short time afterwards Prof. Ferguson wrote what he called an “an unqualified apology,” for the remarks on his personal blog, saying that his comments had been “as stupid as they were insensitive. My disagreements with Keynes’s economic philosophy have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation.
“It is simply false to suggest, as I did, that his approach to economic policy was inspired by any aspect of his personal life.” He added, “I detest all prejudice, sexual or otherwise.”
Ferguson’s insinuations that Keynes’ sexual preferences meant that he was not interested in the long-term future of society have been met with widespread criticism. Tom Kostigen, writing for Financial Adviser Magazine, said, “Not only is this intellectually void, it’s mad. It is one thing to take issue with a society fuelled by self-interest and one fuelled by a larger ethic. But it’s entirely vulgar to make this argument about sexual preference – and to do so glibly.”
Michael Kitson, an economist from the University of Cambridge, has even alleged that Professor Ferguson’s comments were not as impromptu as he claims, writing on Twitter, “I heard him make the same [remarks] over 20 years ago.”
Kitson has also pointed to passages in Ferguson’s highly successful 1999 book The Pity of War which he says draw similar conclusions about the link between Keynes’ economics and his personal life.
Tom Rutland, OUSU President-Elect, spoke to Cherwell about the controversy, saying, “As a gay student at Jesus College, it’s disappointing to see a Senior Research Fellow of the college cast such a negative light on someone simply because they had non-heterosexual relationships in their lifetime.”
He added, “I’m glad to see he’s issued an apology for his dim and offensive remarks this time around, but the fact that he made them in the first place does make me question how much he really does ‘detest all prejudice’.”
Another second-year Jesus historian said, “If Keynes’ economic philosophy was influenced by the fact that he was gay, does this mean that Ferguson’s theories are influenced by the fact that he is rich and famous? Because if that’s the case then I know who I trust more.”